Miami-Dade, Animal Activists Clash Over Whether New Shelter Should Be No-Kill

It's the last stop for thousands of abandoned cats and dogs in Miami-Dade: an aging building surrounded by gray warehouses in industrial Medley. On a recent morning, 20 new strays have already come in, including a shih tzu, a schnauzer, and a beagle. They're just a handful of the 100 or so dogs and 200 cats that arrive on an average day at the overworked, undersized shelter built decades ago.

Change is coming for Dade's wayward pets, with a 69,000-square-foot facility ready to break ground in Doral next year. But behind the scenes, a vicious fight is brewing over how to handle the animals there.

Miami-Dade has to take in any pet that comes its way, and as a result ends up euthanizing up to 30,000 every year. A growing chorus, though, is calling for the new shelter to be no-kill, meaning at least 90 percent must be adopted out. County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz sponsored a bill to that effect which passed a committee this month.

Shelter director Alex Muñoz led a Riptide reporter through the aging building to illustrate the challenges. An average of 37,000 animals come through every year. In one room, large pens hold litters of three to six kittens each. "We get 15,000 cats a year," he says.

The overcrowding has horrified some critics and led in part to the resignation of Animal Services Director Sara Pizano last year.

In March 2011, the department was forced to shut down due to a distemper outbreak. In August, shortly after Pizano resigned, another disease epidemic killed 14 cats and forced an additional 72 to be put down. And on December 31, the canine side had to be locked down once again because of distemper.

Muñoz says the old shelter's poor ventilation and overcrowding make such outbreaks impossible to prevent. Regardless of whether the new shelter goes no-kill, he says the project — a $6.6 million Doral warehouse redesigned for $457,897 — will drastically improve conditions. Each animal will get its own individual glass-encased pen with ventilation to stop the spread of airborne viruses.

But that's still two years away. While the county commission and activists fight over the kill policy, thousands of dogs and cats will meet their end in this outdated facility.

 
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